Portland: The nation’s “pétanque” capitol


Those driving by, or strolling in, Westmoreland Park may have noticed all the activity at the north end, near the dark green cinderblock clubhouse, on the weekend of June 13-14.

More than 100 people, clutching metal spheres, were playing pétanque – in graveled, rectangular marked “terrains” (also known as “lanes”).

“We’re again hosting the United States Nationals Doubles Championships,” exclaimed Steve Walker, President of Portland Pétanque Club.

“It seems that Westmoreland has become a Mecca for pétanque,” Walker told THE BEE.

Members from 22 clubs, from as far away as Maine, Illinois, Florida, California, and here in the Pacific Northwest, came to play the game they have come to love.

“Everyone loves to play in Portland because our ‘boulodrome’ facility and terrain is very nice. And, we have a long reputation for hosting very congenial competitions,” Walker pointed out. “And, it also helps that our players from around the country also enjoy Portland’s other amenities.”

It’s a relatively simple game, dating back to the sixth century, he explained. Each player uses three metal boules – hollow steel spheres each measuring between 70.5 and 80 mm, and weighing between 650 and 800 grams.

“The ‘jack’ is a small wooden ball officially called the cochonet (literally, Piglet), and the idea is to get your boule as close to the ‘jack’ as possible, while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground,” Walker explained. “Part of the strategy is to knock other player’s boule away from the jack.”

Players young and old were involved in the tournament. Some competitors said they took up the sport only weeks ago; others have been playing for decades.

Joe Martin, one of the club’s founders in 2001, said the Portland club has grown from about a dozen members to about one hundred. “It’s a wonderful experience. And, it’s a great game that you can play ’til the day before the day you die.”

The game is easy to take up, but takes a lifetime to perfect, several players agreed. “We say that pétanque is the most popular game in the world of which few in this country have heard.”

You can find folks playing pétanque year-around – even in the snow of winter – at the Westmoreland Park boulodrome every Sunday and Wednesday, starting around noon.

“There is no charge to learn how to play, nor any pressure to join the club,” Walker entreated. “We even have equipment to loan, to get new players started.”

For more information on the Portland Pétanque Club, visit their website: http://www.pdxpetanque.org.